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Bonamici pledges to defend workers' right to organize

August 27, 2018
In The News

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says she will continue to defend the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, even as a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court heads in another direction.

The Democrat from Beaverton spoke last week after she met with representatives from Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, which not only represents the largest group of state government employees but also child and home care workers. They met in Beaverton.

Bonamici criticized the June 27 decision by a 5-4 court majority, which bars workers who choose not to join unions from having to pay fair-share fees for collective-bargaining efforts by the unions to negotiate wages and benefits.

But she said the high court isn't the only arena where worker rights are being targeted.

"We have seen some legislation over the past few years dealing with union elections and the right to bargain collectively," Bonamici said in reference to bills in the House Education and Workforce Committee, which she is a member of.

""It seems to be part of ongoing attacks on working families. There are still a lot of people struggling to make ends meet, save for retirement, take care of their kids. It's hard because wages are not rising enough to meet their needs, especially with the cost of housing.

"So taking away their rights to bargain collectively and earn a living wage is the wrong direction, when we should be making sure that people can support themselves at a good wage and have safe working conditions."

Bonamici is a cosponsor of two bills, also pending in that committee.

One bill (HR 6238), introduced the same day as the Supreme Court decision, would guarantee that all public employees have the right to join a union and negotiate for fair working conditions by creating minimum standards for collective bargaining rights that all states must meet.

The other (HR 6080) would penalize employers that violate workers' freedom to stand together and negotiate for fair pay. It also ensures that workers can negotiate directly with the company that controls the conditions of their employment.

Both bills are sponsored by Democrats and unlikely to clear the committee before the end of the 115th Congress.

One of the SEIU representatives who met with Bonamici was Carmen Mayoral, who is an adult foster home licensor for the Oregon Department of Human Services.

"I think our main concern is that our elected leaders see the real stories and hear our voices, because we are constituents," she said after the meeting. "We need their support to keep them representing us in our community."

Bonamici did join the rest of Oregon's congressional delegation — all Democrats except for Republican Rep. Greg Walden — to urge the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to drop a proposed rule that would bar independent providers from using part of their Medicaid payments for union dues.

Oregon permitted such organizing by home care workers a decade ago.

Their letter says in part:

"The services independent home care workers provide are essential to allowing individuals to remain in their home and community while receiving consumer-directed services.

"We are concerned that the proposed rule would interfere with and compromise the ability of workers to join together to form unions and collectively bargain for higher wages, better working conditions, expanded benefits, and new training opportunities to improve the quality of care they provide to Medicaid beneficiaries."

During the meeting with SEIU representatives in Beaverton, Bonamici also discussed a variety of other issues, such as the lack of progress on immigration legislation.

The House took two votes in June on bills that minority Democrats had no hand in shaping, and all of them opposed. Both failed. One (HR 4760) would have curbed legal immigration and authorized money for the border wall with Mexico that President Donald Trump wants. The other (HR 6136) failed by an even bigger margin despite support from Republican leaders. It would have provided a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — the "dreamers" — and authorized $25 billion for border security, though not necessarily for a wall.

The Senate took four votes earlier this year and all failed to attain the 60-vote threshold to escape a filibuster.

Bonamici said she still prefers a comprehensive approach, but House Republican leaders will not allow an up-or-down vote to resolve the status of the "dreamers." Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as of March, but a judge has allowed that program to continue, easing pressure on Congress to act.